JERUSALEM: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has threatened to cancel talks set for Tuesday with German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel over the visiting diplomat’s plan to also meet rights groups critical of Israel’s government.
An Israeli official speaking on condition of anonymity confirmed reports that Netanyahu threatened to cancel the meeting if Gabriel also met with Israeli rights groups Breaking The Silence and B’Tselem.
Breaking The Silence seeks to document alleged Israeli military abuses in the Palestinian territories, while B’Tselem has worked on a range of issues and has strongly opposed Israeli settlement building.
Canceling the meeting between Netanyahu and Gabriel would be a rare step, but in line with the current right-wing Israeli government’s stance against groups it accuses of having political agendas.
“We are learning through the Israeli media that Prime Minister Netanyahu, whom I have frequently met, wants to cancel this meeting because we want to meet critical representatives of civil society,” Gabriel told German public television station ZDF.
“It is difficult for me to imagine this because that would be extremely regrettable… It is completely normal that we speak with civil society representatives during a visit abroad.”
Gabriel added that it would be “unthinkable” to cancel a meeting with Netanyahu if he met critics of the German government during a visit to Germany.
Such disputes have arisen in the past between visiting foreign officials and Israel’s government.
In February, Israel reprimanded the Belgian ambassador after the country’s prime minister, Charles Michel, met with B’Tselem and Breaking The Silence during a visit to Israel.
However, there was no public rebuke from the government when British Foreign Minister Boris Johnson met with anti-settlement NGO Peace Now during a visit in March.
Israel has occupied the West Bank for 50 years and Jewish settlement building in the Palestinian territory has drawn intense international criticism.
Israeli settlements are seen as illegal under international law and major stumbling blocks to peace efforts as they are built on land the Palestinians see as part of their future state. AFP